Did you know Spotlight PA is a nonprofit? Learn more about our nonpartisan journalism »
Skip to main content
Main content

Big Pa. corporate tax break lacks accountability

Plus, Scranton sheds decades-old distressed city label.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
January 26, 2022
📣 Attention PA Posters 📣 If this newsletter keeps you informed and up to speed, keep it going by showing your support. Contribute now and you've done your part! Thanks! —Colin, PA Post editor
Big breaks, fire failures, tainted taps, financial status, modern mines, reversed course, and Pennsylvania's most regal rodents. It's Wednesday. 
Want to see your message here? Contact us about sponsoring PA Post.

A massive Pennsylvania corporate tax break worth an estimated $280 million annually operates with little accountability and lacks even the most basic data to determine if it's actually working as planned, Spotlight PA reports. 

That lack of data isn't an unintended consequence but rather the result of an explicit effort by lawmakers to limit the information that is collected about the tax credit program, which funds private and parochial school scholarships. 

The information gaps are extensive. For example: it's unclear whether the scholarships actually allow students to switch from public to private schools, how kids fare academically, how much tuition is covered, and what the household incomes of recipients are.

Of 19 states with similar programs, Pennsylvania's credits are some of the largest but have the least measured outcomes, a fiscal watchdog reports.

THE CONTEXT: Supporters say the program is a lifeline for scores of low-income students trapped in failing public schools.

But without more information, the Independent Fiscal Office — known for its sober analyses of economic and budgetary issues — says a "meaningful and thorough" evaluation of the program is impossible.

It's unclear if that will sway Republican leaders in the state legislature, where GOP lawmakers in the majority have grown the tax credits while resisting attempts to improve transparency.

A spokesperson said Gov. Tom Wolf agrees that more information should be collected and expects Democrats will introduce related legislation after his next and final budget address, which is currently slated for Feb. 8.


"The fact that he did not want to come into Philadelphia to have this conversation with African American leaders says to me he doesn't really care about our community and our vote."

Bishop Dwayne Royster on Lt. Gov. and Democratic U.S. Senate frontrunner John Fetterman's failure to show for a forum with Black clergy last week
» FIRST-PERSON: After covering the COVID-19 pandemic, LNP reporter Nicole C. Brambila documents her own recent breakthrough case and observations on the flaws in America's public health response.

» NEW NUMBERS: Last week Pennsylvania reported a 41.2% decrease from the previous week's tally of new COVID-19 cases. The outlook in state hospitals can best be described as highly guarded optimism

» ROLLED BACK: Philadelphia has once again delayed a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers — originally set to take effect on Jan. 14 — amid ongoing challenges from the workers' labor unions, CBS3 reports.

» MORTGAGE RELIEF: Pennsylvania is using federal funding to bankroll mortgage relief for homeowners impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. PhillyVoice breaks down the long list of eligibility rules.

To find a COVID-19 vaccine, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your zip code to 438829 (GETVAX).
» BACK IN SESSION: On Thursday, Jan. 27 at 5 p.m. EST, join Spotlight PA and our panel of experts via Zoom as we look back on the 2021 legislative session and discuss what themes are likely to emerge — or persist — in 2022. RSVP for free here. Submit questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
A golden field of sunflowers in Chambersburg. Thanks, @dozerspike. Send us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
FIRE SAFETY: Philly officials didn't do much after a rooming-house fire killed four people there in 2018. Now, weeks after a fire that killed nine children and three adults in a housing authority-owned property, WHYY asks if bolder action will follow. So far the latest catastrophe has prompted one legislative proposal, a fire-escape tax credit for landlords, and even the bill's author doubts its long-term impact.

WATER FIGHT: Toxic "forever chemicals" called PFAS were leached into Emmaus' water system for years, prompting expensive remedial efforts, talk of legal action, and an EPA advisory, Morning Call reports. The source: foam used at a firefighter training facility. But with a filtration system months away, the state DEP, which has warned against eating PFAS-exposed fish, says the water is safe to drink. Others disagree.

ACT OUT: After three decades, Scranton officially exited the state's Act 47 oversight program for financially distressed municipalities on Tuesday, marking a turning of the page for a city that, like so many others, experienced the prolonged fiscal consequences of fallen flagship industries. But while there is optimism, the Times-Tribune reports plenty of challenges remain in President Joe Biden's hometown

POWERED UP: ABC News went inside a Bitcoin mining operation at an old Venango County power plant to discuss cryptocurrency's environmental implications. The operation is fueled by scores of supercomputers, which are fueled by waste coal — something scorned by environmentalists but welcomed by Pennsylvania officials who say the state can't afford to clean up the waste itself.

LGBTQ LAW: Chambersburg is now the first municipality in the state to repeal an LGBTQ anti-discrimination ordinance, axing a rule enacted by the same borough council just four months ago. What changed? The council's partisan makeup. In Harrisburg, PennLive reports Democratic state lawmakers assailed the move as well as Pennsylvania's lack of statewide LGBTQ protections.

SWING STOP: President Joe Biden will be in Pittsburgh on Friday to tout his supply chain troubleshooting efforts and broader domestic agenda, the AP reports. With his poll numbers sagging and the midterms months away, Biden's office says he's looking to get out more.

FIRM LANDING: Contested Commonwealth Court appointee Drew Crompton, who lost his bid to keep the seat in November, is now a partner at Harrisburg law firm McNees Wallace & Nurick, writing on Twitter that he'll be practicing law, crisis management, and likely government relations.

NEXT CHAPTER: Months after stepping away from the influential blog he cofounded, Pittsburgh author Damon Young is joining The Washington Post Magazine as a contributing columnist. He'll be appearing in its pages weekly and has thoughts on the publicity photo they used to announce his hire.

TIL: Go hug a squonk. The mythical creature is reputed to live in the hemlock forests of Pennsylvania, where it spends most of its time weeping over its unconventional appearance, much like my teenage self. Another parallel: It may dissolve into a puddle of tears when cornered.

NOBLE RODENT: Looking to "finally rectify a long-standing oversight," state Sen. John Kane (D., Chester/Delaware) is planning legislation that would make the groundhog Pennsylvania's official state rodent. And, yes, his memo seeking legislative support has a Groundhog Day tie-in.

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Yesterday's answer: Exculpatory

Congrats to our daily winners: Becky C., Vicki U., Doris T., Kimberly S., Starr B., Elizabeth W., Karen W., Bruce B., Elaine C., Craig W., Fred O., George S., James B., Nancy S., Jude M., Judith D., Bill S., Kim C., Michael K., Susan N.-Z., Diane C., Susan D., David W., Chuck L., Lex M., and Daniel M.
Like PA Post? Share it with a friend.

Love PA Post? Chip in to support local journalism.

Forwarded this newsletter? Subscribe here.
Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and WITF Public Media.

Copyright © Spotlight PA / The Philadelphia Inquirer, All rights reserved.

Spotlight PA
225 Market St., Suite 502A
Harrisburg, PA 17101

You're receiving this email because you subscribed to PA Post, a daily newsletter by Spotlight PA.

You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.